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Soccer Preview / Dundalk and Drogs chase first post-lockdown wins, NEFL returns

Tim Clancy Vinny Perth Paul Crowley
Drogheda United's Tim Clancy, Vinny Perth of Dundalk FC and Drogheda Town boss Paul Crowley. Photo Credit: Inpho/Larry McQuillan.

Both Dundalk and Drogheda United are back in SSE Airtricity League action this evening – and the sides will be eager to make up the ground lost last weekend when they had to settle for draws in their first league games upon soccer’s resumption.

The Lilywhites led for just 90 seconds against St Patrick’s Athletic at Oriel Park last Friday night but Patrick Hoban’s opener was cancelled out by former Dundalk favourite Robbie Benson as Stephen O’Donnell’s side earned a fully deserved point for their efforts. That result, coupled with Shamrock Rovers’ 3-1 win over Finn Harps a day later meant that the Hoops’ lead at the top of the Premier Division was extended to five points.

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In a truncated season, a third of which has now been played, opportunities to reel in the early league leaders are not plentiful in supply. With just 12 games remaining, this is the home straight of a stop-start season the likes of which has never been seen before. Dundalk travel to Phibsborough this evening to face third place Bohemians and know a defeat would see them drop to third. Shamrock Rovers play Derry City on Sunday evening.

Speaking to the official Dundalk FC website, winger Daniel Kelly said the draw against Pats last week “wasn’t the worst result in the world” but concedes his team do not have the luxury of dropping more points. “There’s only 12 games and the spotlight is on us. In a 36-game season people would be saying it was a good result but that’s how tough it is. That was a slip up and we can’t afford to be drawing or losing any more. We need to win as many of the remaining games as we can.

Playing at home in this league is huge especially at Oriel Park because the fans really get behind you when you need to kick on. Bohs are reliant on their fans as well and the fact they’re not going to be there tomorrow might suit us a little bit better,” continued Kelly, who has started three and came on in the other three league games thus far. “Even if we win every game we might still not win the league but all we can do at the minute is focus on ourselves and hope a couple of results go our way.

If you win a couple of games the table could easily turn upside down so that’s what we need to do.”

Patrick McEleney lasted just 22 minutes of last week’s match, succumbing to a groin strain and he won’t travel to Dalymount Park however Vinny Perth can call upon experienced centre back Brian Gartland again, who will offer cover in central defence as Sean Hoare continues to work towards his return from injury. The game will come too soon for him Sean Murray and Darragh Leahy.

The reigning league champions have won eight of the last ten meetings with Bohemians in all competitions but did lose on their last visit to Dalymount last October. Michael Duffy’s late goal was a mere consolation as Bohs ran out 2-1 winners. 

Drogheda United know a win is a must this evening as they aim to keep pace with First Division leaders Cabinteely. They face Bray Wanderers in the first behind-closed-doors league encounter at United Park. Tim Clancy will be buoyed by his side’s impressive comeback against Shamrock Rovers II in Tallaght last weekend. Two early goals and Mark Hughes’ red card left the Drogs staring down the barrell at defeat on their return to competitive action.

But the young team rallied and after Mark Doyle’s goal, substitute Brandon Bermingham produced a stunning long range effort to earn a point which ensured United stayed in second place, albeit only on goal difference. With Cabinteely enjoying a five point lead at the top of the division, the Drogs now know – just like their local rivals in the top tier – there is little room for slipups in the race for promotion.

Speaking to the club website, teenager Bermingham said, “I think we always believed we had the quality to get back in the game. For me to get the equaliser and my first goal for the club was a great moment for me personally.”

Hughes will miss the game through suspension, which means Sean Brennan may come into midfield against Wanderers as fellow midfielder Luke Heeney is a doubt with a knee complaint. Ex-Bray man Adam Wixted may also miss out due to a groin strain. United’s last pre-lockdown home game saw Clancy’s young team put five past UCD. Tonight’s game is the first which will be streamed, for free, via YouTube. The club are asking fans to donate money towards the costs of supplying the streams.

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This weekend sees the resumption of the North East Football League in a brand new format, which begins with qualifiers for six cup competitions.  The season will comprise solely of cup competitions, with the truncated 2020 edition also seeing the introduction of the  ’40 Year Commemorative Cup’ take place, a once-off competition to mark four decades of the league’s existence.

The final positions at the end of the 2019 league campaign will now be carried forward to the new 2021 season, which is due to begin in March next year.

The Tully Bookmakers Challenge Cup, Kilmessan Shield, Fitzsimons Cup, Gerry Reilly Cup, O’Neill Shield and the new Jimmy Mangan Cup will all have knockout rounds from the quarter-finals onwards. Qualification for each tournament’s last eight will be determined by group standings, with those group qualifiers beginning tonight (Friday, August 7).

Among the fixtures tonight, Ardee Celtic host Padraig Hearty’s Muirhavnamor while Drogheda Town play Bailieboro and Rock Celtic face Reedemer Celtic. On Sunday, the qualifying groups for the three senior cup competitions sees Bellurgan face Glenmuir, while Bay travel to Torro and Square United make the short hop to face Carrick Rovers.

Darius Kierans’ Boyne Harps face Enfield at United Park on Sunday, with kick off slated for 3pm.

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